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Citizens Panel

Now in its second year, the South Downs National Park Citizens Panel is going from strength to strength. Panel members have been surveyed on a wide range of subject areas and their valuable insights and feedback have been much appreciated by staff across the South Downs National Park Authority. Some examples of how the results are being utilised are as follows:

  • Our volunteer team plan to use the results regarding interest in volunteering opportunities to diversify their offering and help us recruit a wider range of volunteers
  • Information on how panel members like to spend their leisure time will be used by our access and engagement teams for things like planning future events and creating walk and cycle ride leaflets, which is also helping us to address some of the barriers identified preventing people visiting the National Park
  • Our Heathlands Reunited team plan to use the results on dog walking behaviour and awareness of the Take the Lead campaign to develop their work over the final three years of the project
  • Our Communications team will be using feedback on our shared identity to target future promotion to places where it is most likely to be recognised
  • The panel has helped us better understand which information resources are most useful when planning a day trip in the National Park so we know where to target efforts when creating future information materials
  • Our area teams will use panel members’ feedback about community work parties to plan a schedule of activities in specific community areas launching in the near future
  • Colleagues working for the South Downs National Park Trust will use feedback on specific aspects of the Trusts’ work and level of support to target their next marketing campaign.

We have also utilised feedback from the panel to develop our health and wellbeing strategy and will explore this in more detail next year through a focus group or online community with a small group of panel members. A sample of panel members also tested the National Park website over the summer and gave valuable feedback which will be incorporated into future website developments.

Having a panel has also enabled us to collect vital baseline information, for example around awareness of our Take the Lead campaign. This helps our Communications Team to set targets around engagement and we will test awareness on a regular basis.

Panel members are surveyed twice a year, in the spring and the autumn. Panel members may also be called upon to participate in smaller one-off research projects. Note that panel members’ involvement is entirely voluntary and people can opt out of the panel at any time.

If you would like to join the panel of over 1,600 residents living in or within 10km of the South Downs National Park, or wish to find out more about what being a panel member involves, please email

Citizens Panel Research Reports

Background to the Citizens Panel

The South Downs National Park Authority is the first UK National Park Authority to have a Citizens Panel and it is a very exciting opportunity for us to engage directly with residents on important issues. It is also used to measure change in awareness of the National Park over time and the work of the National Park Authority and the newly created South Downs National Park Trust. We will test the effectiveness of our communications work on the panel and whether awareness of the National Park boundary has improved with the introduction of road signage. We can utilise the panel to measure awareness of key campaigns or initiatives and measure the impact of interpretation (signs, leaflets, information boards etc), giving us insight into the most motivating/eye catching messages to encourage behaviour change.

The panel was recruited in 2017 and is managed by leading research agency Walnut Unlimited. Walnut interviewers telephoned a random sample of people from specific postcode areas (BN, GU, PO, RH and SO). They used randomly generated phone numbers using a widely used method called Random Digit Dialling. This means they take a ‘seed’ number, that isn’t called, and change the last digit to create a new number – for example, they start with the number 01273 428 870 and then change the final digit to create a new number 01273 428 871. Because these numbers are generated randomly Walnut Unlimited hold no personal information.

This approach can however mean that numbers registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and ex-directory numbers are called. Market research calls, such as these by Walnut Unlimited, are exempt from TPS guidelines because they are not classified as sales or marketing.

We appreciate that this can be a concern and if you do not want to receive these calls please let the caller know immediately that you want your details removed from their call lists. You will then be included on Walnut Unlimited’s telephone exclusion list. Those who request not to be called by Walnut Unlimited are added to this list and screened against it for every single project they run.